The city of Lodi has purchased land and is in the process of replacing the problematic Fire Station 2, where firefighters have had to deal with rodents and black mold for a decade.
For years, the Lodi City Council and city staff have sought to rebuild the station, but city staff has struggled to find a suitable piece of property.
As of Dec. 30, 2012, the city closed escrow on a 1-acre former used car lot at the corner of Cherokee Lane and Oak Street. The city purchased the property from Geweke Land Development and Marketing for $400,000.
The new station will cost between $3 to $3.5 million and take somewhere between 18 months to two years to construct.
The key was finding a piece of land that allows for firefighter response times that are as good as the current station on Lodi Avenue, city officials said.
Fire Station 2 serves a majority of the Eastside, and trucks have to respond as fast as possible, despite obstacles like the railroad tracks and Highway 99, Fire Chief Larry Rooney said. There also needs to be quick access to both the residential and industrial areas.
The new location will also make the station more visible and aesthetically improve what is now an empty lot, the chief said.
"The biggest winner is the community because we end up with a building that we can take pride in on the Eastside. It is right on Cherokee Lane, which is a main access into town," Rooney said.
The current station is only 31 years old, but Lodi firefighters have battled black mold, a leaky roof and a vermin infestation for at least a decade, said Brad Doell, Lodi Firefighters Association president.
"It is just really dilapidated. It's not because of the city not keeping it up; it was just bad craftsmanship," he said.
During a tour in August 2010, several Lodi City Council members told city staff to move the fire station to the top of the priority list and get the firefighters into improved living quarters as soon as possible.
City Manager Rad Bartlam then started looking at property around Fire Station 2 to build a new station. That process took longer than expected because the city negotiated for months with one property owner, and then that deal fell apart.
When an agreement was not reached, the city started looking around for other possibilities, and found the Geweke property had recently come on the market, Rooney said.
In June 2012, the council also moved the process forward by refinancing a 2002 General Fund bond that had paid for a new police building, the reconstruction of Hutchins Street Square and the refunding of prior bonds issued for Downtown Lodi improvements. That money will pay for a majority of the project, Rooney said.
The city is also currently negotiating to rent a portable fire station that the firefighters will be able to live in during the construction, the chief said. Doell hopes the firefighters will be out of Fire Station 2 within the next six months.
In the past, there have been promises to fix the building that never came to fruition, Doell said. During the last two years, the firefighters have been appreciative of the city's communication and focus on finding a solution, he said.
"I know that the council and city staff have been working tirelessly to get us a site," he said. "Things did not go as smooth as they anticipated, and it took longer than we would have liked, but we understand a lot of the forces affecting that were out of the city's control. It certainly comforted the firefighters knowing that it was still a priority and that they were working toward getting us out of the station."
Mayor Alan Nakanishi said he is glad Lodi is able to fund this type of project, even with a limited city budget.
"It's long overdue, and I'm glad we have the land we have acquired," he said. "The living quarters for the firefighters have not been adequate for a long time, so I am happy that we can do this."
For the next fire station, Doell said he thinks the city has learned from previous mistakes with other stations.
For example, the heating and air conditioning system at Station 4 is meant for a commercial building, and it is hard to regulate the temperature, he said. Also, because the fire station is occupied 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the air conditioning system frequently breaks down because it is being used constantly, Doell said.
City staff is currently working on a request for architects to design the new station. The chief would like to look for a contractor who has designed other fire stations previously, Doell said.
The city is putting together a committee that will include firefighters to help with the design process, and there will be field trips and consultations with other communities on what works, the union president said.
"A fire station is more occupied than most people's homes," Doell said. "It's a commercial or industrial setting but you have people living there, so you have to incorporate some of the comforts of home."
Rooney said one benefit of the new station is that they are planning to construct three bays, so they will be able to store more of the city's equipment indoors.
"We are looking to build a 50-year building. We are looking for something that is going to last for the community and provide us with nice living conditions and additional apparatus room," he said.
Contact reporter Maggie Creamer at firstname.lastname@example.org.